Baxter’s Friends, a Novel About Three Men in Crisis, by Ned Randle

baxters_friendsBaxter’s Friends ($13.95,  218 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-162-0), by Ned Randle, is a work of literary fiction about three middle-aged male friends whose lives are spinning out of control.

Baxter’s Friends is a finalist in the ForeWord Firsts Contest, sponsored by ForeWord Magazine.

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“We want our writers, our poets, our storytellers to make rainbows, not black or white or even varied shades of gray. Ned Randle paints in hues we often don’t want to see, but occur in nature, human nature …. In Baxter’s Friends, we come in at the present, return to the past, where there are always echoes weighing, weighing down on Baxter, Ferguson, Mary Ann, Mitch and everybody we meet in this fantastic novel.”
– Mr. and Mrs. Garbanzo, Garbanzo Literary Journal

“Middle age is where we wonder if there’s more to life than what we’ve seen. Baxter’s Friends tells the story of Jerry Baxter and his associates, as they struggle with the burden of entering the second half of their lives, dealing with their families, how they’ve treated others, and what awaits them in the uncertain decades to come, as well as what they can change. Baxter’s Friends is a riveting look into the crisis of midlife, so very much recommended reading.”

–Midwest Book Review, Wisconsin Bookshelf

“Shows real promise…. Baxter’s Friends left me hoping Randle spends more time at a keyboard than he does in a courtroom.”  Read more ….

–Harry Levins, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“You might think, from reading the back cover, that you know what Baxter’s Friends is all about. You might be wrong. Mr. Randle will skillfully take you on an intimate journey through the mental meanderings of two different men who, perhaps, aren’t so different after all …”
– Robin Tidwell, Rocking Horse Publishing

“An interesting plot that commands the reader’s attention. Randle’s acute attention to detail; carefully wrought, fluid prose; and vivid, sometimes even lurid, details help create a compelling story. The novel is also laced with what can only be described as a rough masculine sense of humor…. Baxter’s Friends is entertaining and worth the reader’s time.”  Read more …

—Matthew W. Larrimore, Four Ties Lit Review

Jerry Baxter’s father liked to sing the old cowboy song, “O bury me not on the lone prairie …” when he drank. Ironically, Baxter and his two good friends, Hugh Ferguson and Al Mitchell, are soon to be buried alive, and the hole they are digging for themselves is getting deeper all the time.

Baxter is racked with guilt by the sight of his father sitting semi-coherent, blind, and barely mobile in the dismal nursing home he put him in. Fearing a fate every bit as grim, Baxter finds refuge in stark rituals from his Native American heritage that animate his fitful dreams. Ferguson has found religion, or rather had it forced upon him by his wife, who otherwise wants nothing to do with him. The tedium of his job as an accountant is slowly driving Ferguson around the bend. His one solace: fantasizing about an attractive female co-worker, while Mitchell, who has lost his zest for wheeling and dealing and womanizing, looks for a new thrill.

The three longtime friends are approaching middle age kicking and screaming, if only on the inside.

That is about to change.

Says Randle, “I learned as a young man that the theory ‘it’s a man’s world’ runs wide, but not deep. It is true that men of my generation, and those before me, had easier access to the superficial trappings of the world such as education, wealth, power and success. That is slowly changing. There is, however, another world that underlies the superficial; it is a world of emotions, relationships, family and friends. As inhabiting this world, I ascribe to Thoreau’s theory, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ Right or wrong, in this nether world,  men desperately squirm and struggle under the weight of relationships, incessant  physical and  emotional cravings and insecurities in view the societal strictures of organized  religion, monogamy, heterosexuality and expectations of success. I wrote this book to shed a little light on this whole other world. I did not want to go to the grave with my song still in me.”

Ned Randle resides in Southern Illinois, where he writes fiction and poetry. He has a law degree from St. Louis University and studied writing at Washington University, Webster University and Southwestern Illinois College. His short story “The Amazing Doctor Jones” recently appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine, Summer 2012, and another, “The Boston Tar Baby” will be published by Prism Review in Spring 2013. His poems have appeared in a number of literary publications such as The Spoon River Quarterly, Circus Maximus, Seven Stars Poetry, Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, The New Poet, Hamilton Stone Review and Four Ties Literary Review. His chapbook, Prairie Shoutings and Other Poems, was published by The Spoon River Poetry Press, Bradley University. Coffeetown Press published Randle’s poetry collection, Running at Night: Collected Poems 1976-2012, in April, 2013. Baxter’s Friends is his first novel. Click here to find Randle online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

No matter what outfit Grandma had on, she always wore her necklace. When he was little he liked to sit on her lap and play with it. He remembered it well. It was simple—a heavy silver chain with a pendant in the shape of a turtle. Grandma would sit patiently and he would walk the turtle across the hills and valleys of her chest, up through the ripples of her fleshy throat to rest on her chin. He would hold the turtle at her mouth and tell her to give the turtle a kiss, which she always did. She would kiss the turtle and smile.

They buried her with the turtle necklace around her neck.

He thought about his grandmother now, as he lay in bed with his wife and looked down his left arm to his freckled hand. His own fair complexion glowed eerily in the dark. He regretted that he didn’t look more like her, more like an Indian. More like his mother and her mother and less like his old man and his mother.

Sure, his old man called him an Indian. That and worse. He had called him and his sisters his little papooses. Pagan babies. His heathens, he would say, and laugh like crazy.

His wife raised her head from his chest and looked at his face. He breathed heavily and she smiled. She was growing impatient with his distractions.

“Jerry?” she asked.

He tried to put his grandmothers out of his mind. He tried to focus on his wife and what she wanted from him, but her voice led him back to his visit with his father earlier in the evening.

“Jerry?” the old man asked. “You still here?”

“Yeah, Pop?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Sure, Pop. Open up. I’ll feed you.” Jerry tucked a towel into the open neck of his pajama shirt. “Here.”

The old man shrugged his shoulders and worked his ashen cheeks. Jerry put a spoonful of food in his mouth and his father clamped down on the spoon with his hardened gums. Jerry tugged at the spoon gently and the thin paste oozed out of the corners of his mouth. Jerry dabbed at it with a corner of the towel.

“Pretty good stuff, Pop?”

“No potatoes?”

“You want potatoes?”

“Goddamn yes, boy.”

“Sure, open up.” Jerry spooned in some potatoes, now cold and set. There was an uncomfortable silence around him. The other residents had finished their meals. Some stared at Leroy Baxter while he ate because they knew he could not see them stare. A few with full bellies nodded off to sleep in their chairs. Jerry could feel the eyes of the residents sitting behind him, those who wouldn’t sleep or visit or work their way back to their rooms. They sat and stared and amused themselves by watching him feed his father. Jerry reached over and straightened his father, sitting him upright in his chair. He wiped food off his old man’s chin.

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